Today I read about the work of one of the scheduled panelist which I thought was very enlightening. She is Maria Stephans of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict. Stephans is an expert on non-violent democratic movements around the world and will be making some comparisons with the current Cuban opposition for the FIU conference. Stephans recently helped complete a thorough analysis of violent and non-violent civil resistance movements around the world, and assessed their effectiveness. Her results showed that non-violent movements have a far better (almost 90%) success rate than violent ones (50%).
According to Stephans, the assumption of fighting tyrannical repression with equal force of violence may be misunderstood:
"Certainly there is an intellectual history which supports this model. There is a whole tradition of violent revolutionaries, for example, who have popularized the notion that violence is the most effective force in liberating a people from repression, and the most effective way to fight back. When you think about revolutionary fighters or freedom fighters, after all, the image that comes to mind for most people is a Mao Zedong or Che Guevara figure carrying an AK-47.
"Yet, the rhetoric of violence is often more powerful than the reality of violence's strategic effectiveness. Ideology and perception of effectiveness thus have a lot to do with it. Also, there is a steady stream of media coverage of violent forms of resistance. 'If it bleeds, it leads' is the mantra that leaves us with the false impression that that which captures headlines, necessarily captures power. Our study is challenging this notion by looking at results."
Stephans also has some words for those (like the US government) who seek to support non-violent democratic movements (such as in Cuba):
"However, and this is crucial - to be effective, nonviolent movements must be indigenously planned and executed. External assistance cannot create civic coalitions nor disciplined nonviolent action. To assume otherwise (as some analysts do) is to fundamentally misunderstand the dynamics underlying this form of resistance."
[Photo above of massive non-violent protest in Beirut 2005]